MSU’s first family of saxophone
Lulloff family enjoy a special father-son performance.
MSU College of Music Professor of Saxophone Joe Lulloff is well-known and respected in his profession. His versatility in classical and jazz music has taken him to stages around the world, and recently led to a special concert experience in Washington D.C.
Joe is an alumnus of the College of Music, having studied saxophone under Dean James Forger among others. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music performance in 1982 and a master’s in music performance in 1984. What may be lesser known – for now – is that Joe’s spouse, Janet, and their son, Jordan, are MSU saxophone graduates as well. Janet earned her master’s in music performance in 1983, and Jordan is a 2016 alumnus of MSU in saxophone performance and jazz studies.
Disinclined to boast, the Lulloffs tend to not seek the spotlight. They just love to play music. Yet their artistry and versatility often lead to the spotlight seeking them. That was the case when Joe received an invitation in early 2019 from the U.S. Air Force Concert Band to perform as part of their annual Guest Artist Series.
Joe was more than honored. He was ecstatic. While typically a guest role for the premier band might include playing a single concerto, the 53-member USAF band asked Joe to perform the entire program of concertos and other works with them. The icing on the cake was that Joe would have the opportunity to share the stage with one of his favorite musicians – Jordan.
“They asked me how my son was doing,” Joe said. “And I said, ‘funny you should ask. I was just thinking about him.’”
In 2011, the then-17-year-old Jordan won the Air Force Band’s Colonel George S. Howard Young Artist Competition for high school woodwind, brass and percussion instrumentalists. The band was familiar with Jordan given his competition win and wanted to know if Joe would like to have him invited to play as well.
“I was all in,” Joe said. “So once the Air Force Band and I decided I would be performing the Steven Bryant and Ingolf Dahl Saxophone Concertos, I contacted Jordan about a work for us to do together. We chose Scherzo Furioso a recent duo concerto with band written by French composer Jordan Gudefin, and got started preparing and rehearsing the music. This opportunity and project was so extremely special. I can’t even describe the feeling.”
Back in the groove
Soon after, the father-son duo reunited over multiple visits that extended into spring to begin rehearsing and interpreting the Scherzo Furioso.
The two split their time between Evanston, Illinois, and East Lansing, Michigan. Jordan had taken up residence near Northwestern after earning a master’s there in saxophone performance in 2018. He is also deep into the Chicago music scene performing contemporary classical and experimental improvisation with ~Nois – a saxophone quartet formed while he was in graduate school at Northwestern.
“This was a way for me and my dad to collaborate in a way we hadn’t before,” said Jordan of the USAF band concert. “We had opportunities to perform together in the past, and that had been fun. But this time, rather than me still being a student, we were both professionals.”
Janet Lulloff was in the audience when her husband and son appeared at the Rachel M. Schlesigner Concert Hall in Alexandria, Virginia. She remarked she always found it amazing to see them play together, although this time, it was exceptional.
“There are physical things they do when they play that are so similar, it’s kind-of spooky.” she said. “The amount of pride and love and everything I felt watching them both play at such an outstanding high level is beyond words.”
And Janet, having taught and played saxophone professionally, knows what she’s talking about. The Lulloffs are a sax-wielding family whose dinner conversations are often musically-infused.
At first, Janet didn’t want Jordan to play saxophone. She thought he might be always in his father’s shadow. But in fourth grade, he took each of them aside separately and said he really wanted to play. That Christmas, a saxophone magically appeared under the tree.
“I taught him lessons initially, but when he was in eighth grade I passed him on to Jonathan Nichol, the University of Oklohoma professor of saxophone who was a graduate student at MSU at that time,” Janet said. “But whenever he practiced at home, he would get a little bit of a lesson from one of us, like me peeking out and saying something like ‘that’s a B-flat or ‘love that note a little more.’” Joe would occasionally be his “practice partner.”
Living the progression
Joe and Janet agree that the musical connection shared with Jordan comes from a special place. As Music alumni, their pride swelled when Jordan decided to study music at MSU. Joe said he felt even more pleased when Jordan went on to capture awards and recognitions, form ensembles, and go to Northwestern to study with Taimur Sullivan – Joe’s former student who earned his master’s degree in Music from MSU in 1994.
“It’s just been very cool to see Jordan progress and develop his unique voice in the profession,” Joe said. “The Air Force band gave us the perfect opportunity to really collaborate with one another. We’ve often played together in saxophone quartet at national conferences, local recitals, and at church and other venues. But doing something on this stage, and at this artistic and technical level, is a totally different experience.”
Jordan said it was also incredible to be back performing with the U.S. Air Force Concert Band in a venue similar to where he experienced his first real musical success. The spring performance with his father was symbolic of the multi-layered relationship they share as father-son, teacher-student, and now, peer-to-peer.
“There aren’t many professional musicians who share the fact that they are father and son, play the same instrument, and were once teacher and student, too,” Jordan said. “We have such a close connection outside of music, so it was really special to see that connection develop on stage.”